Over two dozen environmental activists and intellectuals in Gujarat have demanded a detailed environmental impact assessment of Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project, the Statue of Unity, a 182-metre memorial to Sardar Patel, proposed to be constructed 3.2 km downstream of the Sardar Sarovar Dam and Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary.

In a letter to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, the activists wanted all construction activity to be stopped. The project is a proposed joint venture of the Gujarat government and the state-financed Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust (SVPRET).

Mr. Modi laid the foundation stone for the Rs.2,500-crore project on October 31 on the Sardar’s birth anniversary.

The letter, addressed to Union Environment and Forests Secretary V. Rajagopalan, stated: “We would like to bring to your attention that work on a project that proposes to build the world’s largest statue in the form of Statue of Unity, in an eco-sensitive zone and involving massive infrastructure, has started work without a legal mandatory environment clearance, environment and social impact assessment or any public consultation process.”

The proposed statue is envisaged to be more than twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty of New York.

Terming this as “clearly illegal”, the letter asserts that this is “in violation of the Environment Protection Act, 1986, and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of September 2006 and a number of National Green Tribunal and court orders about such massive kind of construction on the riverbed”.

The activists pointed out that tenders had even been floated for the project, while the work for the Garudeshwar weir, proposed about 12 km downstream of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, began without any social or environmental impact assessment, public consultation or clearance from the Narmada Control Authority’s Environmental Sub Group (ESG).”

The letter cites the project website to say that it “clearly states the purpose of tourism and involvement of the SVPRET to build the Statue of Unity, 3.2 km downstream of the Sardar Sarovar Dam inside the Narmada River on an islet called Sadhu bet”.

The website, according to the activists, states that a “13-km-long water body [pond] will create an excellent tourist spot with infrastructure on both banks” and that “the Statue of Unity is planned to be erected in the river bed on downstream of the main dam in the Garudeshwar weir. A permanent water pool in and around the [proposed statue] will be created by the [weir], which will enable boating activity around the statue.”